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Biology major embarks on personal pursuit for curing forms of dementia

Morgan Jones, class of 2018 conducts research in biology lab.
Morgan Jones '18, biology graduate

Morgan Jones has seen death up close.

She’s witnessed the slow progression as Alzheimer’s stole one person’s mind and Parkinson’s disease shut down another’s body.

Working in the memory care unit of an assisted living community, she’s been with residents in their final months, days, and hours. It’s part of what has driven her in her studies at York College of Pennsylvania — not as a nurse, but as a Biology major.

Dying is a part of life. Morgan knows that. But do diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s have to be a part of that life, or can they be cured?

A unique perspective

Working directly with residents in a nursing facility may seem like the opposite end of the spectrum from a Biology major’s working in a lab. But Morgan says it’s given her a deeper understanding of the diseases she’s trying to cure.

“I know from a personal level what exactly we are trying to cure and what it looks like,” she says.

Her own grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago. And though the progression of the disease has been slow so far, she’s seen the end stages in others and knows intimately how it affects a person.

“I definitely think it gives me a little bit more of that drive to want to cure this,” she says, “to know that people’s lives are affected by this every day.”

Morgan graduates from York College this December. But, thanks to the college’s focus on project-based learning, she’s already started to leave her mark in her field.

Learning from the unexpected

Morgan had a plan for her project.

She was going to use a planarian flatworm to mimic stem cells, a common practice, and then test how the flatworm reacted when the neurons were degenerated when given a specific drug. Degenerating the neurons would mimic what Parkinson’s does to cells, allowing Morgan to study the disease in a controlled environment.

From the beginning, things went wrong.

The flatworm didn’t react as expected, and Morgan had to troubleshoot. Each time her project progressed, there were hurdles and unexpected challenges. And each time she worked through, finding solutions and evolving, exploring wherever the project took her.

“That really makes you stop and question, when you’re expecting things to happen, and they don’t, especially in science,” Morgan says.

But each time the unexpected happened, she stopped and researched. She asked questions and worked with her mentor to understand her results.

“Having things not work out definitely made me learn things so much more than when they did work out,” Morgan says.

At the end of the project, Morgan presented her findings in a written paper as well as through a presentation. It made her a stronger communicator.

“I had to learn how to talk about my projects in scientific terms and in laymen’s terms,” Morgan says. It’s a skill she knows will help her in her career.

Chasing her dream

Until now, Morgan’s dream had been to graduate college with a degree in Biology. Now that’s becoming a reality, it’s time to chase a new dream.

Her future is uncertain — she may pursue a PhD — but, for now, she’s applying for positions in clinical research, assisting others looking for cures for cancer or other diseases.

“Every scientist’s dream is to make a discovery that works, that makes a difference, that can change the world,” she says.

She plans to pursue that dream.

Her drive and determination are strong, and she never wants that to change.

But she has another dream too, one further in the future. She loves to run track — even holds a few records at York College. And when she’s 100 years old, she wants to have the presence of mind and physical ability to compete in the Senior Olympics.

Until that day she’ll continue to pursue solutions, ask questions, and follow her projects, wherever they take her.